You may not see it as often these days, but not too long ago it was impossible to turn on the TV after 10 p.m. without seeing either a commercial or infomercial for MagicJack, a small plastic box that could replace your home phone line using the power of the internet. With the rise in the ubiquity of the smartphone, many people don’t even have a home phone anymore, but MagicJack is still around, and actually offers more now than it ever has. Is it worth a look? Read on to find out.
What is MagicJack?
MagicJack is a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) provider that has been around since 2007. Basically, it provides the same services as your home phone, but instead of an actual phone line, it uses your internet connection instead. The service has moved beyond the simple home phone alternative it started as, allowing you to make calls on the road, and even ring calls to your home phone on your smartphone. The company has also shed the shady image it initially had, trading dubious marketing tactics for an increasingly solid product.
How does it work?
The original MagicJack plugged into your computer’s USB port and piggybacked on its internet connection. A standard phone jack on the other side of the device lets you plug in the phone of your choice and make calls. It was a simple solution, but required you to leave your computer on all day and all night, assuming you wanted to be able to receive calls at any time.
In 2011, the company debuted the MagicJack Plus. This could still be plugged into your computer, but also included an Ethernet connection, allowing it to plug directly into your cable modem or router, meaning you no longer had to leave a computer running at all times to make and receive calls. The MagicJack Plus also boasted drastically improved call quality, partially because it could be directly connected to a router, but also because of improved hardware inside. In 2014, a second, smaller version of the MagicJack Plus was released, followed by the even smaller MagicJack Go.
Today, MagicJack offers two primary options, one product and one enhanced service (as well as an app that comes with your device). They are:
MagjicJackHome: MagicJackHome is the only VoIP adapter that MagicJack currently offers. This adapter plugs into a USB-A port on your computer to provide a VOIP connection that can port your old phone number over so you don’t have to change your contact information. Thanks to the included MagicApp, you don’t necessarily need your computer to use it, either. Free caller ID, call waiting, voicemail, conference calling, directory assistant, and free calls between MacicJack users are all included, as well as free local and long distance calling.
MajicJack Concierge: Concierge is an extended service that’s specifically targeted at more professional VoIP users — small businesses that may want MagicJack capabilities instead of a full VoIP solution. This comes with two additional features. First, you get access to expert support staff that are available via phone calls (something lower-tier users do not get). Second, you get discounts for any new devices if you need to replace your MagicJack device in the future.
How much does it cost?
The MagicJackHome is available for $39.99 to $59.99. Prices vary based on current deals and where you are buying from. Upon ordering, you have 30 days to return it free of charge if you don’t like it. Included in the purchase is 12 months of free service. A renewal for another year of service is $39. The MagicJack App is entirely free to download and use during this time.
The extra MagicJack Concierge service for more support is $14.99 per year. There are no additional costs or discounts for these added features.
These prices compare favorably to rates for other VoIP services, especially for small enterprises and home businesses; as long as you don’t need any other features or call management options.
How useful is MagicJack, really?
It may have been a gimmick when it started, but since the introduction of the MagicJack Plus, it has generally been a solid service. While its main use is as a home phone replacement, it also offers a number of features that may be useful to anyone, even if you haven’t had a home phone for years.
One major use is international calls. As shown above, the pricing isn’t bad, but if you have people in other countries that you frequently call, it may behoove you both to use MagicJack, as calls to other MagicJack users are free, even internationally. This also applies to MagicApp, so even if you don’t want to buy any specialized hardware, you can use the app on your phone of choice.
Actually, MagicApp may be the secret weapon in MagicJack’s arsenal. Not only does the app offer unlimited texting — great if you’re on a limited cell phone plan — but it also makes free calls over Wi-Fi. Yes, mobile providers like T-Mobile and Sprint offer Wi-Fi calling that won’t use your minutes, but if your provider or phone doesn’t support this, MagicApp could be a great way to save money on your plan.
How is the call quality?
Call quality varies by a number of factors, but has generally gotten better with each generation of hardware. From the MagicJack Plus through the MagicJackHome, quality has been much better than it was at the start.
If you’re able to stream Netflix, your connection is likely more than fast enough to use MagicJack.
There are two major factors that affect quality. The first is whether you’re plugged into a computer or directly into your modem or router. The latter seems to greatly improve quality. The second factor is your internet connection. If you’re able to stream Netflix or other video services without interruption, your connection is likely more than fast enough to use MagicJack without issue. If you struggle to load webpages, call quality will suffer as a result.
The actual phone you use will also have some effect the call quality. Using a cordless phone, for example, will have all the same problems that those phones have with standard lines.
Who is MagicJack for?
The easiest answer to this question requires another question first: Do you have a home phone line? If the answer is yes, then MagicJack is absolutely worth a look. You’ll be hard pressed to find a cheaper option, especially if you frequently use that line to make long-distance calls.
MagicJack is also a great option if you frequently make international calls, as even though these aren’t included in the base yearly price, the rates are still among the cheapest you’ll find. If you’ve thought about adding a land line, say for your home office, you’ll find MagicJack cheaper than any other options. The company even has a different, separate offering for businesses, though that doesn’t really fit within the scope of this article.
There are other options out there, like Vonage, which is the most popular VoIP offering available, but also considerably more expensive than MagicJack, starting at $10 per month. Skype is another option, and now offers end-to-end encryption, but that is a very different product, aimed at different people. If you’re looking to lower your parents’ home phone bill, they probably won’t be interested in Skype. Still, if you’re not sure which might be the best for you, be sure to check our list of the best VoIP providers.